As the year comes to a close, city of Santa Clarita officials are staying attentive on a pending decision that could change the course of the long-fought CEMEX mining project.
“We are still waiting on the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) decision, but we all know that this is one of the most important issues for quality of life,” said Mayor Laurene Weste.
In 2015, the Bureau of Land Management canceled the initial contracts to stop the project, but Mexico-based CEMEX appealed the cancellation.
That appeal is what the IBLA is reviewing, and the city is waiting to hear back.
Officials with IBLA have not been available for comment for an update on the appeal.
Mike Murphy, the city’s intergovernmental relations manager, said this is the last step in the administrative appeals process.
“It’s conceivable then that both parties would then have the legal standing to go to legal court if they don’t like the decision made,” he said. “Right now, it’s hard to say what exactly would happen after the decision.”
He added that the city remains watchful for an answer. Santa Clarita owns the surface estate of the site, situated on Soledad Canyon land, while BLM owns the mineral estate, meaning the only parties involved include BLM and CEMEX.
The mineral rights supersede the city’s ownership of the land from a land-use standpoint, so the IBLA has several options, and based on years of work on the issue, the city is expecting one of the following three:
The IBLA could rule the Bureau of Land Management improperly cancelled the two 10-year mining contracts Cemex owns, and restore them, meaning a mining operation could move into Soledad Canyon.
It could rule the BLM was justified in invalidating the contracts, meaning no mine.
Or, it could rule the BLM cancellation invalid, but make the starting point of the contract when they were originally assigned in 2000, meaning the contracts are essentially void. (In this scenario, city officials have estimated that it would likely take about 18 months for a new operation to become up and running if Cemex’ contracts were valid, and since the contracts can’t be renewed due to recent legislation, that would also essentially stop the mine.)
The biggest unknown, however, would be a fourth option, which is the fact that the IBLA could look at past precedent and create a new unexpected alternative altogether, according to Murphy.
After a decision is made, the city’s goal for the 2018-19 year is to obtain clarification from IBLA on the status of contracts between those two parties.
While the waiting game continues, however, Weste expressed her appreciation for Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s efforts in getting language added to the Omnibus Appropriations bill, signed into law earlier this year, that would prevent any future contracts for mining operations on the Soledad Canyon site.